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THE NOAH

This recently unearthed obscurity gives new meaning to the term minimal: it features just one character (actor Robert Strauss) on an island together with countless imaginary (hence unseen) companions.  Not an entirely successful film, but definitely a fascinating one. 

The Package 
     THE NOAH was lensed in 1968, briefly distributed in 1974 and then “lost” for over three decades, at least until a restored version was released on DVD by Pathfinder Home Entertainment in 2006.  It was the first and only feature directed by Daniel Bourla, a Greek-born filmmaker who helmed commercials in the United States during the early fifties and returned to his native Greece during the McCarthy era. 
     As for the late Robert Strauss, a veteran character actor who graced classics like THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM and THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER QWAI, and was nominated for a 1953 Academy Award for his turn in STALAG 17, THE NOAH was to be his final feature.  The supporting cast included Geoffrey Holder, the deep-voiced Jamaican best known for the many 7-Up commercials he headlined during the eighties, and Sally Kirkland, a longtime B-movie starlet.  Both are identifiable by voice only, as Strauss is the only visible personage.  Other voices heard include those of James Keach, Jack Schneider and Daniel Bourla’s son David, himself a future writer-director.

The Story
     A man in military garb washes up on a deserted island somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.  It quickly becomes clear that the place is a leftover Japanese stronghold from WWII, with abandoned shacks and discarded weaponry scattered everywhere.  The man, who dubs himself Noah (after the guy with the ark), commandeers a shack and settles into an apparently carefree existence.  The thought of rescue never seems to cross his mind, and we gradually learn why: much of the world has been destroyed by nuclear war and Noah is among the very few survivors.
     After a while Noah begins to grow lonely and so conjures an imaginary companion, a friendly Jamaican soldier named Friday, who quickly becomes the “best friend” Noah “ever had”.  But Friday longs for a companion of his own, so Noah creates Friday-Anne, an extremely chatty young woman intent on seducing Friday.  Noah, laboring under strict military-induced Puritanism, blows a gasket when he overhears Friday and his mate having sex.  He runs off to the island’s farther reaches and becomes deluged with ever more imaginary personages.  Growing increasingly powermad, Noah teaches a school, leads an army, and even, Moses-like, draws up a set of commandments for his subordinates to follow.  And still Noah descends ever further into madness, to the point where his delusions become increasingly fragmented and incoherent, reduced to snippets of music, disembodied voices and political speeches.  The island scenery, meanwhile, stays forever the same: desolate and deserted.

The Direction
     Director Daniel Bourla has created something quite unique with this unrelenting portrayal of total isolation.  Superbly lensed in stark black and white, the film is a visual stunner, but also utilizes sound in strikingly innovative fashion.  The protagonist’s hallucinatory companions and the community he creates are ingeniously depicted via voice-over dialogue and occasional POV shots; all we ever see, however, is the refuse-laden island, with a single man upon it succumbing to total insanity.  Bourla ultimately fails to sustain this dazzling vision through to the end (the film concludes with a fizzle), but his achievement is nonetheless unprecedented.
     The performance of Robert Strauss is what holds THE NOAH together.  Strauss is in literally every scene, and is furthermore the only flesh and blood character, making for a mighty demanding role.  He’s more than up to the challenge, though, closing out his career in impressive fashion.  Let’s hope that, with the three-decades-overdue release of Pathfinder’s DVD, this long-neglected classic will finally attain the status it deserves.


Vital Statistics 

THE NOAH
Pathfinder Home Entertainment 

Director: Daniel Bourla
Producer: Louis De Rochemont III
Screenplay: Daniel Bourla
Cinematography: Jerry Kalogeratos
Editing: Angelo Ross
Cast: Robert Strauss, Sally Kirkland, Geoffrey Holder, Jim Blackmore, Herbert Hartig, Jack Schneider, James Keach, Richard Thomkins, David Bourla
 


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